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Holland considers adding sexual orientation, gender identity to anti-discrimination rules

Gender identity and sexual orientation are a hot topic right now in the city of Holland. That’s because Holland city council is considering adding local laws that protect people against discrimination for being gay or transgender. The ordinance would give them protection from discrimination by employers and landlords. The issue is extremely divisive in the generally conservative city.

Reverend Ralph Houston reads passages from the bible to city council at an informal meeting last night. He says passing the ordinance would lead to moral chaos.

Still, other self-identified Christians spoke in favor of the ordinance.  One noted, “Jesus said that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, and gay and lesbian are our neighbors and they ought to be treated equally.”

But Pastor Bernie Timmerman compared passing the ordinance to condoning drug use or adultery – claiming that homosexual behavior is a choice people make.

“And if we are to truly love these people we have to love them as much as a doctor loves and patient.”

Others opposing the rules said it would take away their rights as private business owners to hire who they choose. Some landlords compared it to their choice not to rent to smokers.

Karen Prins just moved back to Holland to take care of an aging parent.  

“I was lucky I moved away from Holland and I’ve been away for 40 years. Because I know living here as me wouldn’t have worked.”

Prins is a lesbian. Now she mentors gay and transgender youth in West Michigan. And she argues the extra protection that is not provided by state and federal laws are needed in Holland.

The state and federal government do not protect homosexuals and transgender persons against discrimination in housing and employment. About 20 Michigan cities do offer those protections. 

The recommendation to adopt the ordinance came from a city subcommittee that studied the issue for a year. They were directed to come up with a recommendation by city council at the request of community members.

The subcommittee recommended exempting religious organizations from the rule.

City Council could make a decision on what direction to take next week.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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